“The Catholic Church is firmly against one person killing another for any reason.”
These were the words of Bioethicist Rev Dr Joe Parkinson who this week spoke following the announcement by the West Australian Government that they will introduce a bill to legalise voluntary assisted suicide for patients suffering from a terminal illness.
“That’s a very hard proposition to maintain, if we then begin to create exceptions to that rule,” Dr Parkinson said.
Dr Parkinson is also the Director of the LJ Goody Bioethics Centre.
The announcement comes following the recommendations from the Joint Select Committee on End of Life Choices, outlined in its August report ‘My Life, My Choice’.
Speaking on ABC radio this week, Dr Parkinson says the Church will campaign against assisted dying, but he is not confident it will be able to turn around public sentiment.
“The reason is that, the first message that gets out, often shapes public opinion.
“And the first message that has got out about voluntary assisted dying is that most people want it. Now that is actually based on newspaper polling, it’s not based on research in any meaningful sense.
In a media release published this week, the McGowan Labor Government said an expert panel would be appointed to help draft the bill, and will be chaired by Malcolm McCusker QC, former Governor of Western Australia, and will report to the Minister for Health. The panel of 11 members is comprised of leading health professionals, health consumers and legal experts.
The panel will also consider allowing assisted suicide for patients with chronic illness and neurological conditions.
Health Minister Roger Cook said the government planned to introduce the legislation into Parliament in the second half of 2019.
“The bill that will be presented to Parliament will be a conscience vote,” Mr Cook said.
“It will be up to each of the members to form a view about this very sensitive and important matter in relation to whether they agree or not with the legislation going forward.”
The committee’s recommendation would allow a doctor to administer lethal medication where a person was physically incapable of doing so, but was eligible under the proposed voluntary euthanasia model.
Under the model, death would need to be a “reasonably foreseeable” outcome of the condition suffered by the patient.
A patient would also have to have “decision-making capacity” at the time of making a choice to die, be aged over 18, ordinarily reside in WA and be assessed by two doctors.
However, the committee also recommended health practitioners not be forced to engage in voluntary euthanasia, should the practice be legalised.
The recommendations were backed by all bar one member of the committee, with Liberal MP Nick Goiran providing a dissenting extensive minority report, describing “assisted suicide” as “a recipe for elder abuse”.
Australian Christian Lobby state director Peter Abetz urged the panel to disregard the committee’s recommendations, describing them as “basically suicide on demand”.
“Right around the world, wherever it’s been implemented, there’s been major abuses of that legislation,” he said.
The panel helping to draft the legislation will be led by former WA governor Malcolm McCusker QC, along with ten experts in the areas of aged care, medicine and law.